Berlusconi faces confidence vote

0 CommentsPrint E-mail Xinhua, December 14, 2010
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Last-minute horse-trading and grandstanding were in full force in Italy on Monday, a day before a crucial test of the government of embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Berlusconi would be forced to step down, should he fail to gain support of a majority of lawmakers in the confidence vote scheduled for Tuesday in the Italian parliament.

Both the prime minister and his challengers were claiming that they would prevail. But behind the scenes, both sides were busy with desperate attempts to seal deals that would tilt the scale in their favor.

In recent days, Italian media were filled with vague speculations about possible quid pro quos involved in the contest, such as highly paid consultancies, no-interest mortgages and government positions for family members of supportive lawmakers.

But some specific deals were mentioned as well. Marco Pannella, the august head of the neo-libertarian Radical Party, has threatened to shift six lawmakers into Berlusconi's column in return for action on prison reform, one of Pannella's pet issues.

Antonio Di Pietro, head of the Italy of Values party, has vowed to expel any member of his party voting in favor of Berlusconi.

Gianfranco Fini, leader of the National Alliance party and a former ally of Berlusconi, who heightened the crisis five weeks ago by urging Berlusconi to step down, has so far refused overtures to return to the prime minister's fold.

Yet local newspapers reported Sunday that five of Fini's 36 supporters in the lower house had indicated an intention to side with Berlusconi.

Berlusconi addressed the parliament on Monday morning, urging lawmakers to let his government stay and offering to reshuffle his cabinet to give posts to parties that would support him in Tuesday's vote.

On Sunday, Fini charged that Berlusconi wanted to stay in power only because as prime minister he enjoys immunity that allows him to avoid possible prosecution on a variety of charges, including influence peddling, cronyism, sex with minors and bribery.

As to what the outcome of Tuesday's vote would be, no clear consensus was reached among political observers.

Some predicted a narrow win by Berlusconi, but also cautioned that during the following months, the government would operate without a strong mandate, which would eventually lead to a new crisis.

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